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August 25th, 2009
Once Upon a Coup
China's Footprint in Africa

China’s growing economy has created a voracious demand for oil, gas and other raw materials. Africa possesses many of those raw materials and has become increasingly important to China’s future. To ensure continued growth, China has moved aggressively to secure access to the continent’s resources. It has courted African rulers with interest-free loans and promises of debt forgiveness, invested heavily in large-scale infrastructure projects and provided access to Chinese military training and weaponry. Its expansion into Africa has been swift; China’s trade with Africa rose from about $9 billion in 2001 to $73 billion in 2007, and is expected to top $100 billion by 2010. China declared 2006 its “Year of Africa,” and over a million Chinese workers are now spread throughout the continent.

As its presence in Africa grows, so has criticism of the methods China uses to secure the continent’s wealth. Western governments have criticized China for ignoring gross human rights violations and securing exploitative terms in its trade deals. And African governments have criticized China for giving overwhelming preference to Chinese workers at the expense of locals when hiring for the many infrastructure projects funded by China.

Despite the criticism, China appears to be in Africa to stay. It will become the continent’s largest trading partner by 2011, and China now depends on Africa for 30% of its oil. But oil is just the tip of the iceberg. Click on the map icons below to see where China is active on the African continent, what it hopes to get in return, and the inevitable tensions that have arisen as its footprint gradually grows. Where icons overlap, zoom in on the map to see further details. All statistics refer to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Note: While Western governments have expressed concern about China’s expansion into Africa, China still remains a relatively small player compared to the West. In 2008, it exported only 9 percent of Africa’s oil while Europe and the U.S. exported 36 percent and 33 percent respectively. And China’s investment of $10 billion in African oil infrastructure is less than one tenth of the $168 billion spent by other international companies, such as Exxon Mobil, Shell and Total.

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